The Little Book of Marilyn

Inspiration from the Goddess of Glam


By Michelle Morgan

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A lifestyle guide and tribute to the style, glamour, and showmanship of Hollywood’s most iconic star, with Marilyn-inspired lessons and inspiration for today’s woman.

While the 1950s was in many ways an era of repression for women, Marilyn Monroe broke barriers and rebelled against convention — and charmed the world with her beauty, talent, and irresistible personality. Filled with gorgeous photos, The Little Book of Marilyn will show you how to bring a touch of that glamour into your own life through:

  • Tutorials on recreating the star’s makeup looks
  • Style advice and tips on where to find Marilyn-like fashions
  • Décor ideas from Marilyn’s own homes
  • Everyday inspiration from her life that will let your inner Marilyn shine, and much more!


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In the 1980s, this photograph was a staple for any teenage girl’s bedroom.


I first truly discovered Marilyn Monroe on a postcard stand in Devon, England, during a seaside holiday in 1985. I had been aware of her before, of course, and she had been more visible on my radar since Madonna performed as her in the video for “Material Girl.” However, the postcard of Marilyn in a gold-lamé dress, blowing a kiss at the camera, triggered something inside me. At a time when I felt like the most unglamorous person in the world, Marilyn’s beauty, style, and sophistication spoke to my teenage heart. The next day I bought a biography of her to read on the beach. I was excited to know more about this beautiful woman, but I had absolutely no idea just how important she would become to me.

I was fifteen years old, unconfident and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. It was also the era of playground politics for me—that depressing time when friendships are broken on an almost daily basis and when one person falls out with you, the rest of the group seems to follow. I started summer vacation feeling fairly unhappy, but after discovering Marilyn and applying some of her attitude to my own life, I returned to school in September quite transformed. A glimpse at my 1985 journal confirms that I was taken aback by how much my outlook had changed, just by learning about Marilyn and adopting a few elements of her style.

In the thirty-three years that have passed since then, I’ve discovered that many people—men as well as women—have been greatly inspired by Marilyn. Some enjoy dressing as her, while others take comfort in watching her films or learning about her life and career. There are even collectors lucky enough to buy her personal belongings at auction. But whatever kind of devotee you are, we all have something in common: Marilyn has enriched our existence in ways we never thought possible.

A celebration of the fans as well as the star, The Little Book of Marilyn presents a mixture of inspiration, tutorials, and crafts, which will enable us all to put a bit more Marilyn into our lives.

Let’s get started!

An unusual and beautiful studio close-up.

chapter ONE

her story

ONE OF THE MANY SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR Marilyn’s supporters is the knowledge that while in her early life she was often sad and despondent, she was able to rise up and become one of the most successful women in the world. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson (changed shortly after to Baker), she was the daughter of Gladys, a twice-divorced film cutter for Consolidated Industries. Her father was believed to be Charles Stanley Gifford, a boss at Consolidated, though for years Norma Jeane was unaware of his identity and spent most of her childhood believing her father was deceased.

Unable to cope with the demands of motherhood and a full-time job, Gladys enlisted the help of her mother’s neighbors the Bolenders to care for Norma Jeane. The couple fostered other children, and for a time the situation worked out well. The child stayed with the family, while Gladys divided her time between working in Hollywood and traveling to see her daughter. Unfortunately, life had been hard for Gladys, and she suffered from a variety of problems, including mental illness. Even though she attempted the role of Norma Jeane’s full-time guardian in the mid-1930s, her emotional state was fragile. After a breakdown, Gladys was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and her daughter spent the rest of her childhood being cared for by family friends, foster parents, and an orphanage.

Norma Jeane with her mother in the late 1920s.

Norma Jeane married neighbor James Dougherty to escape going back into an orphanage.

When Norma Jeane was fifteen, her current foster parents, the Goddards, planned to move away from Los Angeles and did not have the means (or permission) to take her with them. Not wanting to see the girl sent back to an orphanage, Mrs. Goddard conspired with a neighbor to encourage her son, James Dougherty, to date and then marry Norma Jeane. The plan worked perfectly, and the couple wed shortly after her sixteenth birthday, in June 1942. The couple settled down to married life, until James enlisted to fight for his country in the Merchant Marines and Norma Jeane somewhat reluctantly moved in with his parents.

Marilyn would later say that she really only married Dougherty in order to escape the orphanage. Letters show that she did have some feelings for her husband, but the girl was young and wanted more in her life than marriage and children. The chance for independence came when Norma Jeane began working in an ammunitions factory. While there she had her picture taken by a photographer named David Conover, who had been sent to snap women working for the war effort. He immediately saw a photogenic talent in Norma Jeane and introduced her to some photographer friends. Her talents were soon recognized, and it wasn’t long before she was signed to the Blue Book Agency, headed by Emmeline Snively.

Norma Jeane poses on a beach at Catalina Island. Her modeling career was just around the corner.

Starlet Marilyn Monroe attends a publicity event.

Norma Jeane’s childhood had never been particularly positive, but her newfound career gave her boundless confidence, and she soon became a popular and very busy model. Her emergence as an independent, working woman ensured that her marriage to James Dougherty was over, especially when casting directors and producers took notice of her on magazine covers and began making enquiries about her availability as an actress.

In the latter half of 1946, Norma Jeane divorced her husband and was signed to Twentieth Century Fox. Casting director Ben Lyon deemed her name not interesting enough, and a new one was sought. Marilyn Miller was proposed, but the twenty-year-old did not care for the name and exclaimed that she didn’t know how to spell Marilyn. A compromise was found when Norma Jeane suggested Monroe as a surname, since that had been her mother’s maiden name. The studio agreed, and Marilyn Monroe was born.

Despite her enthusiasm, Marilyn’s contract was not renewed after a year, and she was out of Twentieth Century Fox with only two tiny film appearances to her name. In order to pay the bills, she flitted between several other studios, went back to modeling, and posed for nude photographs by Tom Kelley. However, by the early 1950s she was back at Fox, and this time they signed the fledgling star to a long-term contract.

The beach and swimwear were regular themes in publicity photos.

Low-cut gowns such as these often raised eyebrows in the early 1950s.

Marilyn and Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

It was roles like this one in River of No Return that prompted Marilyn to start her own film company.

After the struggle of her early years, Marilyn’s star rose quickly, thanks mainly to the fact that the public absolutely adored her, even in small roles. Letters poured into the studio on a daily basis, and gossip columnists were always keen to write about (and often champion) her career. Not even the discovery of Marilyn’s nude calendar pictures in conservative 1950s America was enough to dim her sparkle, and the studio put her into as many films as it could.

Marilyn entertains the troops in Korea in 1954.

Marilyn and second husband, Joe DiMaggio.

By 1954 Marilyn had appeared in blockbusters such as Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire, but her magnificent success came at a price. Marilyn was an intelligent woman—an ambitious soul who read great literature and took night school classes—but the public’s enjoyment of the succession of dumb blonde roles she played ensured the studio continued to see (and cast) her that way. Her marriage to baseball star Joe DiMaggio added another complication to her life and career ambitions, as her new and somewhat jealous husband wrongly assumed that Marilyn would abandon her film work in order to become a full-time wife and mother.

The Seven Year Itch skirt-blowing scene.

The marriage between DiMaggio and Marilyn failed spectacularly after the filming of the immortal subway scene for The Seven Year Itch, which featured her skirt blowing above her knees amid a torrent of publicity. This pivotal event confirmed Joe’s fears that Marilyn had no intention of kissing her career good-bye, and the couple parted shortly afterward, though they remained friends for the rest of her life. When The Seven Year Itch finished filming in late 1954, Marilyn rebelled against the studio’s typecasting, walked out on her contract, flew to New York, and created her own film company with photographer Milton Greene. Her reasoning was that she wanted to act in dramatic parts as well as musicals, something Twentieth Century Fox was reluctant to let her do.

For a time Marilyn’s ambitions were mocked by the studio and journalists alike. They wondered how the actress could possibly think of herself as an independent entity, when she was supposedly signed to Fox for the coming years. News that she was studying at the famed Actors Studio under the guidance of Lee and Paula Strasberg was met with even more derision.

In 1955, Marilyn appeared on the television show Person to Person to talk about her new film company.

The idea that a so-called blonde bombshell could become a trailblazing businesswoman and actress was unthinkable to some, but Marilyn was full of surprises. She proved the naysayers wrong when, at the end of 1955, Twentieth Century Fox signed her to a revolutionary contract that enabled her to work with the studio and independently, too. She also had a say in what directors she would work for—a major achievement for an actress in the mid-1950s. This was just the beginning of a fascinating period of time, one that would see Marilyn star in the critically acclaimed movie Bus Stop and marry respected playwright Arthur Miller. Suddenly the tide began to turn: people realized that if Marilyn Monroe could pull off such a magnificent performance in Bus Stop, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning author could see her as intellectually attractive, then maybe she wasn’t a dumb blonde after all.

Marilyn and her third husband, Arthur Miller, shortly after arriving in London.

Looking casual, during her marriage to Arthur Miller.

She and Miller embarked on a trip to England to make The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier. The two stars aggravated each other almost immediately, and by the time production finished, in November 1956, Marilyn was exceedingly happy to return to New York. There she took on the role of housewife to Miller and stepmother to his children, while trying desperately to create a family of her own. Sadly, her attempts at motherhood ended in miscarriage, first in the summer of 1957 and then toward the end of 1958, shortly after working on one of her most celebrated and popular films, Some Like It Hot.

In 1960, Marilyn had an affair with her married costar, Yves Montand, while on the set of Let’s Make Love. The relationship only lasted the length of the shoot, and then she immediately went on to make the Miller-penned movie The Misfits. Shooting in the desert heat of Nevada was a nightmare for all concerned, particularly because Marilyn was often late on set and then became ill with extreme exhaustion and spent time in the hospital. Her marriage unraveled during filming, and by the time The Misfits wrapped, it was over.

The next year was a pivotal one for Marilyn, as she recovered from the emotional work on The Misfits and the strain of her separation from Arthur Miller. Early in 1961, the actress was admitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York, though she always insisted that her doctor had tricked her into going there. Letters written from the hospital show that Marilyn was forced to sleep in a room with a glass door (so that doctors and nurses could observe her), and the bathroom was kept locked. When she was finally able to get in touch with ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, he stormed the hospital and insisted she be released into his care.

Marilyn arrives in Nevada to make her last completed movie, The Misfits.

Marilyn signs autographs on the set of The Misfits.

Second husband Joe DiMaggio proved to be a good friend in the last years of Marilyn’s life.


On Sale
Jul 9, 2019
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Michelle Morgan

About the Author

Michelle Morgan is the author of Friends: A to Z Guide and Trivia Deck, The Friends Book of Lists and Friends Light-up Central Perk. She lives in Northamptonshire, England. 

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